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Qataris gather at the capital Doha's traditional Souq Waqif market as the official logo of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 is projected on the front of a building on September 3, 2019. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

HRW Condemns Qatar Over Arrests, Abuse of LGBTQ+ People Ahead of World Cup

"Freedom of expression and nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be guaranteed, permanently, for all residents of Qatar, not just spectators going to Qatar for the World Cup."

Jenna McGuire

As Qatar prepares to host the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup, Human Rights Watch reported on Monday that Qatar Preventive Security Department forces have arrested LGBTQ+ people without cause and subjected them to deplorable treatment in detention.

"The Qatari government should call an immediate halt to this abuse and FIFA should push the Qatari government to ensure long-term reform that protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that "security forces arrested people in public places based solely on their gender expression," and documented multiple cases between 2019 and 2022—six that involved severe and repeated physical violence and five that involved sexual harassment.

"While Qatar prepares to host the World Cup, security forces are detaining and abusing LGBT people simply for who they are, apparently confident that the security force abuses will go unreported and unchecked," said Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher at HRW. "Qatari authorities need to end impunity for violence against LGBT people. The world is watching."

Six LGBTQ+ Qataris, including four transgender women, one bisexual woman, and one gay man, all told HRW they were detained in an underground prison, verbally harrassed, physically abused, forced to give confessions, and denied access to legal counsel, family, and medical care—and all were made to sign pledges that they would "cease immoral activity."

In all cases, individuals were detained without charge and never received record of their detention, which HRW says most likely constitutes unlawful arbitrary detention under international human rights law.

"They [preventive security] are a mafia. They detained me twice, once for two months in a solitary cell underground, and once for six weeks. They beat me every day and shaved my hair," said a Qatari transgender woman, arrested by the department in Doha. "They also made me take off my shirt and took a picture of my breasts. I suffered from depression because of my detention. I still have nightmares to this day, and I'm terrified of being in public."

In other accounts to HRW, one individual was subjected to solitary confinement for two months, a Qatari bisexual woman was beaten into unconsciousness, a gay men was surveilled and arrested based solely on his online activity, and a Qatari transgender woman was arrested for wearing makeup and forced to sign a pledge that she would not wear makeup again as a condition of her release.

Under article 285 in Qatar's Penal Code, extramarital sex, including same-sex relations, is punishable by up to seven years in prison. While none of those interviewed faced any charges, it appears they were arrested under Law No 17 of 2002 on Protection of Community, "which allows for provisional detention without charge or trial for up to six months, if "there exist well-founded reasons to believe that the defendant may have committed a crime," including "violating public morality."

HRW noted that while Qatar assured outside visitors in 2020 that it would welcome LGBTQ+ visitors and fans would be free to fly the rainbow flag at the World Cup soccer games, it is clear Qatari authorities do not believe its LGBTQ+ citizens and residents deserve basic rights.

FIFA, the football governing body, which awarded Qatar the World Cup in 2010, adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2016, which requires it to take adequate measures for the "prevention, mitigation, and remediation of human rights impacts."

"Only weeks ahead of the World Cup, LGBT people are raising the alarm on the abuses they have endured by security forces," Younes said. "The Qatari government should call an immediate halt to this abuse and FIFA should push the Qatari government to ensure long-term reform that protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence."

HRW called on the Qatari security forces to end all arrests for consenting adult sexual relations—including same-sex conduct or those based on gender expression—halt any government-sponsored programs aimed at conversion practices, and immediately release LGBTQ+ people who remain unjustly detained.

"The Qatari authorities should repeal article 285 and all other laws that criminalize consensual sexual relations outside of marriage and introduce legislation that protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, online and offline," HRW said in a statement. "Freedom of expression and nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be guaranteed, permanently, for all residents of Qatar, not just spectators going to Qatar for the World Cup."


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